by Yuri Stelter
In the far future, humanity learns that nothing is ever permanent.
| The Moon began to glitch. It had been falling for weeks now, and that had been bad enough, but this…this was something else.
We had thought Jupiter had been weird, but Jupiter was so far away that it didn’t cause the panic the scientists had been expecting. We had simply ignored that bright pinprick at night, even as it was going through its stuttering, twitching dance.
I mention the scientists, but they really have no more idea than the rest of us do about what’s happening. The cults might actually have it more right than the scientists do. When celestial bodies begin doing these things, I think science goes right out the window. The cults are talking about some ancient idea called the Simulation Hypothesis, and as far as I’ve heard, that’s the best idea out there. Maybe we are in a simulation, and our housing processor has been infected with something. It makes sense. But…everything feels so real, and there seems to be no pattern to the strange events…except that they’re getting closer.
We know they’re getting closer.
We knew we were in for it when the Moon began to glitch.
I was twenty when it all was first noticed. Well, okay, I wasn’t actually twenty, I was four hundred and forty-six. But I looked and felt twenty. Four hundred-year-olds might as well have been twenty, for all the credibility we were ascribed. But I had been in love. She hadn’t believed me when I told her, but I think she might be coming around. Love was a strange thing in those days. Most people had it artificially induced, and with each other’s consent. But I actually fell in love with her.
I had been arguing with her when the news report came on.
“Scientists are baffled,” the title read.
“I can only describe it as a glitch,” an ugly little man was saying. “It reminds me of VR glitches, and that’s all I can really say. It’s out at Alpha Centauri. At first we thought it must be atmospheric interference, but that couldn’t explain what we were seeing.”
I turned away from Bella to watch the T-VR. She rolled her eyes and hooked in too. The man was now right in front of me and I took in his bizarre appearance. He chose to manifest as having four arms, two of which were gesticulating wildly. The other two, ending in normal hands, were still, the hands folded primly in his lap. He wore a visor that wrapped around his eyes, reflecting light back and away, and I wished I could see the color of his eyes.
“For those of us who don’t regularly participate in VR, can you describe it?” the newswoman asked. She was choosing to manifest as fully human, thought I doubted she was. I myself wasn’t; I had both some bat and some wolf DNA in my cells, though my only outward change had been to fit myself with a pair of huge bat-like ears.
“Well,” the ugly little man said, his mouth turning down and exposing a set of vampiric fangs, “I guess I’d have to say…” he paused, clearly having trouble describing whatever “it” was. I had regularly participated in VR about forty years ago, but that wasn’t cool anymore, as far as I was concerned. Only five hundred-year-olds, and older, liked VR anymore. But I hadn’t gone so far as to have my implants removed. But I could imagine what the man was saying; a glitch. Sure.
Finally, he spoke again. I could feel Bella next to me, reaching for my hand, but I pulled back. I was still mad at her for refusing to believe me.
“It appears as if the star is flickering at first. Then, when you look closer, you see it isn’t flickering, not really.” The man was having trouble expressing himself. Three of his arms started gesturing, and the hand on the fourth was picking at his skirt with unease. “I guess it’s different each time you look at it. Sometimes it looks like the star is suddenly the size of a planet. Then the star looks like a black hole. Then it’s a mass of swirling matter, perhaps like an accretion disc, or perhaps a nebula. I’ve never seen colors like that before.”
What is “it,” though, I wondered?
The newswoman seemed to read my thoughts. She might actually have, if enough of us had the same one. I wondered if Bella had had the same question.
“What is ‘it,’ Doctor?”
He looked suddenly helpless. I found myself feeling fright as the hand picking at his skirt reached up and started to pull his visor away.
“NO!” I screamed; I very suddenly didn’t want to see his eyes. But I saw them. They appeared fully human, but I have never seen so much terror in a pair of beautiful blue eyes before. The man was downright petrified. He had no idea what “it” was.
“We don’t have an answer, Sheena. “’It’ is simply visual oscillations. I mean,” he said, his voice losing power, “Glitches.”
No one had really paid much attention after that first news report. A century or two had gone by until we started caring again. “Glitches” had been picked up in the Oort cloud. Our Oort cloud. It took a while for the Oort cloud objects to actually start glitching; first, a comet or two would come screaming into the inner system at speeds that made no actual sense, not even to the less informed. Then, the next day, the objects would have disappeared without a trace. No expanding cloud of debris, nothing. Then another one would be detected, hauling ass straight for Earth. Scopes would watch it; our gravity tractors would be scrambled and prepared to meet it. But when the tractors got there, all they found was a whole lot of nothing.
Fear was starting to spread. Talk of attack covers the nets; attack? By whom? In hundreds of centuries, the Fermi Paradox had yet to be resolved. It seemed unlikely that something intelligent and capable enough to start hurling Oort Cloud and then, later, Kuiper Belt objects at Earth would have been missed for so long. Besides, if it were an attack, the entire solar system would have to have been surrounded, a sphere of about a light-year in diameter, simply crawling with these beings, because the comets came from everywhere. Sun-side; out from Pluto’s highly eccentric orbit; suddenly spotted hurtling past Jupiter from ecliptic north. It made no sense.
But then the comets and asteroids that had no business entering the system started to glitch.
They’d be neutron stars, tearing apart the outer orbits, then they’d be a simple comet; then, they started to become swirling masses of color and light so bright and so painfully beautiful that it ached to see them streaking across the night sky. Great arcing paths of glimmering…something were spotted in each hemisphere, every night. It was absolutely terrifying.
But we forgot that, too, once it stopped. The shifting, shimmering trails and the spotty, glitching comets just stopped. That night, I recall it was in April, the sky was black again, with the regular smattering of cold, distant pinpricks—devoid of one, of course.
Devoid of Alpha Centauri, for those who cared to see.
The next event occurred in March, about forty years after the hailstorm of nonexistent Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt objects. It was Pluto, this time. Pluto shimmered, Pluto twisted, Pluto disappeared then reappeared in a completely different orbit, then jumped back where it should be. That was when the cults first started.
They claimed that the Reckoning was coming. They were entirely religious, at first, and it took many decades of watching Pluto until the phrase “Simulation Hypothesis” was first uttered. Jim Holostein, I believe his name was. Jim. Jim was a very public figure, telling all who would listen—first, that number was very few, until Pluto started actually glitching—that the Simulation Hypothesis was the only answer. That we were not biological entities. That we had been created.
He had been dismissed and laughed off stage for many, many years. By the time he was first rising to publicity, I had had my bat genes purged and was back in VR again. I had many more implants and my eyes were no longer my own; they were cameras with sensitivities in every electromagnetic band. My favorite pastime was to be with Bella, who had finally agreed to believe that I loved her, and had agreed to have love for me induced, and to watch the sky each night in a different frequency. I don’t love her anymore, but I feel bad that she induced love for me, so I stay with her. I don’t want to have my own love induced, because I don’t love her, and don’t want to. But I stay with her. She manifests with six legs these days, but I digress.
I was watching the sky in gamma when she took my hand and asked me about Jim.
“Do you believe anything that Holostein is saying?”
“Hmm?” I turn to her, and she is a dark spot in my vision, the intense gamma around us passing straight through her in a slicing path of destroyed DNA.
“Jim Holostein. And his Simulation Hypothesis. Do you believe him?”
“Why would I? It’s an ancient idea back when people were paranoid and scared.”
I switch back to visible light and see her face, which makes me tremble.
“Why are you scared?”
“I’m scared of the glitches. You can’t deny one thing he says: it’s all coming closer.”
“That’s nonsense,” I say, without the proper conviction. I know Bella is right. In fact, it’s coming closer at a rate of a light-hour every decade. If it keeps up, it will reach Earth in less than fifty years.
I lost Bella to a cult. Considering I didn’t love her, losing her hurt a lot worse than I had thought it would. Well, to be honest, I never thought I’d lose her. She joined Jim Holostein’s cult, the main one. She had been keening in terror each night, then I woke up and found a note.
I know you’ll be upset, but I’m leaving. I’m leaving you, and I’m going to find truth. I believe what Jim says. We’re all a simulation. I need to know more.
Not even an “I love you.”
That night, I spent alone, on my porch, watching the sky in radio. In radio, there were arcs of silence, which disturbed me; it was as if someone had dragged an eraser across a fully completed pencil work, streaking bands of nothingness across reality. I wondered if Bella hadn’t been right after all, to go looking for truth.
It was another forty or so years later that Saturn began to be affected. The most terrifying thing about that was that it appeared, for years, as if Saturn had had an encounter with some immense celestial body and was hurtling in-system, directly for Earth. I don’t know how to describe it; every day, it appeared as if Saturn were approaching Earth, getting closer, but the distance never closed. It was like some twisted experiment attempting to answer Zeno’s paradox.
That went on for years and years, then…Saturn too began to glitch. It became a galaxy, simultaneously immensely large but also Saturn-sized, fitting perfectly into Saturn’s orbit, and yet still remaining the size of an entire galaxy. Then it was a simple comet, as if reminding us of the decades previous, when we had thought we were under attack by sentient beings flinging rocks and comets into the inner system. And yet, as tiny as a comet was compared to Saturn’s mass, its gravitational readings never changed. Then it became an inactive black hole, sucking in light and matter, gravity disturbing everything that came close, and yet Saturn’s rings remained.
The terror was real then, and pervasive. An entire half of the sky had become dark at night; no sprinkling of stars, no meteors, just…blankness. As if the universe was slowly ripping itself into shreds.
That brought with it another hypothesis: some said that a vacuum metastability event had occurred, and what we were seeing was the universe decaying into a truer, more perfect vacuum. That the blackness approaching Earth was the incomprehensible—a true vacuum. What would the physical constants have become in that blackness? What strange forms of matter, if any matter at all, now existed in the approaching, fractionally more-perfect vacuum?
But others said that the metastability event hypothesis made no sense. The bubble of expanding vacuum decay would have approached us at the speed of light, not the relative crawl we were seeing. It should have been upon us already if that were the case. The Simulation Hypothesis followers declared that perhaps the metastability event had some merit, but only within their own parameters: perhaps we weren’t being infected, but a simulated metastability event had occurred. Perhaps it was moving at the speed of light—the reason that it appeared to be crawling toward us was because our collective perception clock rate was much faster.
But really, it didn’t matter who was correct, the Simulation buggers or the metastability event critters.
It was still approaching, either way.
Jupiter was terrifying. It spent three years as a nebula, manifesting in the skies as a beautiful smudge of unknowable, unspeakable colors. Then Jupiter too began to plummet towards Earth, as Saturn had done, but it was much, much closer. We even felt some of the disturbances on Earth as Jupiter rushed inwards. Earthquakes and vicious storms abounded, sending tremors through the public consciousness. But most were able to live through the quakes and the storms as if it were natural. The fear was only corporeal; it wasn’t existential. The storm clouds covered the skies, blanking out Jupiter’s smudge. The earthquakes kept eyes focused downwards, drawing them away from the heavens.
Then Jupiter began, as the pattern demanded, to glitch.
By the time the Moon began to glitch, we were already feeling the existential terror of losing our existence. We could feel ourselves being eaten, neuron by neuron. I could feel my core personality being interrupted, stuttering, stopping, restarting. Becoming infected. The Moon’s glitches were terrifying and beautiful, in that order. I can’t describe it any more than that ugly little man had been able to describe what they were seeing out at Alpha Centauri, so long ago.
The moon falling in towards Earth had been frightening, but we hadn’t known that we had yet to know pure, shrieking terror. We all felt it, the second the Moon began to glitch. We knew then what was happening, but chaos had erupted.
No one left their homes, nor did they leave their loved ones.
We were all being eaten, piece by piece.
We knew who had been correct.
I feel myself dying, being eaten. I can’t describe it, but I can feel it, I feel me being lost, being corrupted. I miss Bella more than I ever have. I feel—